Imagine a science-fiction influenced spy thriller about humanoid assassins directed by Jess Franco with a screenplay adaptation by Jean-Claude Carrière (a frequent collaborator with Luis Bunuel), a cool jazz score by Paul Misraki (Alphaville, Le Doulos, Les Cousins) and an international cast featuring Eddie Constantine, Fernando Rey and Francoise Brion. It sounds like a film buff’s fever dream but it actually exists. Released in 1966 during the height of the James Bond craze, Cartes sur table aka Attack of the Robots is a stylish and amusing entertainment that takes a standard world domination-by-madman scenario and infuses it with a cheeky sense of humor. The film will come as a surprise to those who only associate Jess Franco with Eurotrash favorites like 99 Women (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Wanda, the Wicked Warden (1977).
Each year hundreds of international films never get picked up for distribution in the U.S. and the select few that do are either high profile film festival prize winners like Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) or popular commercial hits like March of the Penguins (2005) from France and Life is Beautiful (1997) from Italy. So when you come across an austere and haunting cinematic work like Valerio Zurlini’s The Desert of the Tartars (Il Deserto Dei Tartari), you have to wonder how many great films from other lands are out there that you are not going to see…and probably never will. Continue reading